‘Heads up, heads down, heads together': Publicis CEO on future of working

‘Heads up, heads down, heads together': Publicis CEO on future of working

In the first article in a new Campaign series, 'Smarter Working', about new ways of working in adland after Covid, the UK boss of Publicis Groupe explains its strategy to balance time in the office and home.

It has been a year since we moved our people out of 22 agency homes into 5,000 actual homes.

Now the question of how we return is a challenging one, with many points of view and sensitivities to consider.

We know for certain that how we work in the future will not be the same as we worked pre-Covid. 

The pandemic has shown us that remote working can work. But equally, after a year of this, the need for face-to-face connection has never been so necessary – for creativity and innovation, for culture and learning, and for good old-fashioned social interaction.

A hybrid world of work comes with its own set of unique challenges, as the London School of Economics’ Dictionary of Behavioural Biases recently set out. 

Hybrid can’t mean half in and half out, as anyone who has been on the screen-end of a meeting where the majority of the attendees are in a room together can attest to.  

Any hybrid, calendar-based solutions will inevitably result in ghost-town offices on Friday afternoons and Monday mornings, and the subsequent capacity challenges midweek.

At Publicis Groupe UK, we’re focusing on modes of work rather than days of the week. We’ve looked at the problem less in days of the week terms, instead focusing on humanity, productivity and creativity.

Our future of work will be governed by a simple system: “Heads up, heads down and heads together.”

These are principles that will govern how and where we work: 

Heads down” work is the independent part of our jobs, which we can do away from the office and on our own: presentation writing, desk research and all the routine tasks that are, frankly, easier from home.

All those tasks we’ve been doing successfully for a year, with our heads down at the kitchen table.

Heads up is true hybrid mode for routine team meetings or for when clients are in various locations.

We’ll keep investing in our technology and reconfiguring our spaces to support this mode to ensure that the creative spark and off-the-cuff chats that result in new ideas can still happen, for those people in the Zoom as well as in the room.

Heads together” is the in-agency, real-life, person-to-person work. The best bit. Kick-off briefings, creative reviews, agency meetings and, of course, client meetings whenever possible.

Our offices will continue to be the beating heart of our agencies, where we come together and work collaboratively, where we’re at our creative best, where we build culture, we learn, we grow, we embrace spontaneity and we have some fun.

The office will be the anchor of the working week, with people working from home when they’re “heads down” and sometimes when they’re “heads up”.

At Publicis Groupe UK, we launched our flexible working programme in January 2019, so we continue to build on those foundations. And of course, Marcel was in place long before the pandemic, so we were already fit for the challenge of connecting the wider network.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach, and how these “heads up, heads down, heads together” guiding principles are interpreted is up to our agency leaders.

I’m just happy to be heading forward after far too long at home.

Annette King is chief executive of Publicis Groupe UK


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